Several years ago, MongoDB acquired database company Realm. That led coworkers Adam Fish and Max Alexander to strike out on their own to work on solving what they saw as a serious problem: How in the world do we create databases that are collaborative, mobile and able to stay synchronized even without access to the internet?
“If I’m standing next to you, why can’t I just send the data right to you versus going through the complexities of the internet?” Fish said that was only half the problem, though: What about when that database eventually needs to reach the internet to synchronize?
“In the end you’ve got this problem of having to try to move data quickly between two devices, they could be devices or servers,” Fish said. In short, the problem Fish and Alexander were trying to solve was latency issues in real-time collaboration. Specifically, those that happen when databases become unsynchronized.
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Ditto is the outcome of their efforts. Founded in 2018, Ditto is described on its website as “a real-time database for mobile, web, Internet of Things and server apps that can magically sync data with or even without the internet. With customers including Lufthasa, Japan Airlines, the U.S Air Force, SKO Systems and more, Ditto is more than just a startup pushing new “disruptive” tech.
Ditto: Meshnet technology in action
Ditto’s technology is based on device-to-device syncing of locally-stored databases. It works by connecting peers using the same app via Bluetooth or local Wi-Fi and enables them to keep a database synchronized between them. If one person marks an inventory item as sold, everyone else’s database is updated immediately, so (hopefully) there aren’t any duplicate transactions.
If peer-to-peer, dynamic networking sounds like meshnet technology to you, you’re on the right track: Fish said that Ditto can absolutely be described as a mesh network. “[Ditto can] create connections with nearby devices and then those devices can in turn create additional connections,” Fish said.
Where Ditto differs from meshnet products and technology is that it is first and foremost a database. “We don’t want developers to worry about the network. We want them to just think about data. No one else [in the mesh networking space] had really looked at it from that approach,” Fish said.
Ditto addresses Bluetooth security issues by designing certificates right into its traffic. “Our security systems know which devices are which, and then they create an encrypted connection over whatever system they’re using.”
A surprising amount of use cases
Fish said that Ditto fills a gap that lots of knowledge workers don’t think about because the very nature of their jobs places them in front of a computer where all the tech they need is accessible in an environment designed for that level of accessibility. Not everyone has that sort of work situation, though.
“If you work in a factory, in an airline, at a live event, a restaurant or any similar situation, you don’t have that same technology at your fingertips [as a stationary worker]. I boil all these applications and use cases down to giving frontline workers the tools that we take for granted when sitting at a desk,” Fish said.
One of the earliest adopters of Ditto has been airlines like JAL and Lufthansa, who have integrated Ditto tech into their customer applications and back-end software. Flight attendants can see via a Ditto-enabled app when a passenger has ordered a drink or meal, where they’re sitting, and immediately updates all Ditto-enabled devices to reflect that a passenger ordered whatever they chose.
Also in the airline industry, Fish cited baggage handlers and other ground crew who are frequently moving in and out of areas with Wi-Fi or cellular coverage and are often handling equipment inside the bellies of airplanes, which do a lot to block data signals.
Similarly, cruise lines have been working with Ditto to integrate its tech as well. Fish told me of one company that is using Android devices to track when crew and passengers come aboard or leave the ship, and even track them as they wander about ports. All it takes is for a single Ditto user to be connected to a chain of other users, all the way back to the ship, which could keep up-to-the-minute changes synced to locally-stored databases, back to the ship’s onboard data center, and off to a cloud-based server if and when it has a connection.
It’s not hard to think of other use cases, either: Restaurants, machine shops, assembly lines, shipping warehouses or any other business with rapidly shifting inventory, people or assets could feasibly make use of Ditto.